It’s official. William Byron will be the driver of the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018.
The move was first reported by Sports Business Journal on Monday. Hendrick announced the move Wednesday morning. Byron will replace Kasey Kahne, who is parting ways with the team after the 2017 season.
“At every step, William has proven how quickly he can adapt,” HMS owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “Some drivers have raw talent and some have a strong work ethic. William has both. It’s impressive to see a young guy who never gets rattled and instinctively knows how to communicate with his team. That level of commitment, poise and pure ability is rare at any age. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”
Byron’s rise through the NASCAR ranks is nothing short of meteoric. He’s currently a rookie in the Xfinity Series — and has won three races — and made the move to the Xfinity Series after driving for a season in the Truck Series.
Byron was the favorite for the Truck Series title in 2016 but his truck had an engine issue in the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix and he didn’t make the final four at the Homestead season finale.
Byron won seven of 23 races in the Truck Series a year ago and his plight has been pointed to as a reason for NASCAR’s overhaul of its point system. As part of the changes introduced with stage racing in 2017, drivers in all three NASCAR series can carry over bonus points accrued in the regular season through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The 19-year-old got his start in iRacing in 2011. After successful simulation racing, he moved to Legends cars and signed to drive a late model for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. Byron drove the 2016 truck season for Kyle Busch and signed last summer with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports to move to Junior’s Xfinity Series team for 2017.
Byron will be sponsored in the Cup Series by his current Xfinity sponsors Axalta and Liberty University. Liberty University is a Christian school founded by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell. The school has been taking steps in recent years to boost its profile and its football team is moving to the top level of college football.
Liberty’s athletic director is former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, who resigned at Baylor following an independent investigation into the school’s inaction regarding sexual assault claims, including many against members of the football team. He was hired at Liberty in November — less than six months after leaving Baylor — as more and more reports about the school’s absolute indifference to sexual assault claims became public.
By putting Byron in the car, Hendrick would save significant money in driver salary vs. paying a champion driver like Matt Kenseth or Kurt Busch.
Byron would be the second in-house replacement Hendrick has announced in recent weeks. The team said before the Brickyard 400 that Alex Bowman would take over for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car in 2018.
Junior is retiring from Cup Series competition at the end of the season and Bowman is currently the test driver for the organization. Bowman drove in 10 races for the team in 2016 while filling in for Junior as Junior recovered from a concussion.
Making the addition of Byron official would also solidify Hendrick Motorsports’ driver lineup through 2020. The team has previously announced contract extensions for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott this year.
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